Bayra, the big bear-like poet who writes about sex and spends his time doing I don’t know what in his office at the Writers Union, is driving to the Artists Union with Chilaajav and me in tow. Bayraa tells me that he used to work at a pornography magazine, since that’s where he could find work with a publication that actually sold. He and Chilaajav chorus through the names of the women they love while we wait in traffic: Pamela Anderson, Cindy Crawford.
It’s a chilly day, the very end of autumn in Ulaanbaatar. The Artists Union building is as you would expect, cold and grim and Soviet. Each artist has a room, and each room is crammed with easels and paint and astoundingly good paintings, stacked together in deep rows. They gather dust, and they shouldn’t. One artist is so drunk when we walk into his room that he can’t shake my hand properly. Still, he goes out to buy wine and fruit for me and tells everyone that I am his wife. More artists come in, one toting a baby (dressed in the astronaut-like protection against the cold that makes me call Mongolian babies Moon Babies), one looking like a villain. I try to break this down: small, sharp, dark eyes, long black hair in a ponytail, thin mustache and goatee. How deep set are these old image stereotypes in my mind? Which cartoons, which picture books? One of the artists and I speak Spanish; he studied in Moscow and learned the language to speak with some of his masters from Spain.